The Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon began discussions on the prospect of a predominately in-person fall term at its March 8-9 quarterly meeting, while also approving student tuition rates and fees for the 2021-22 academic year.
President Michael H. Schill announced on March 1 that the UO plans to return to mostly in-person instruction in the fall, following Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to include higher education on Oregon’s phase 1B vaccine eligibility list. That news means UO faculty and staff who are needed to teach or work on campus research will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination no later than May 1.
Schill told the board that returning to a largely on-campus operation is something the whole UO community is anxious to do.
“Returning to campus and securing federal and state financial relief is critical for recovery of our community,” Schill said. “The university’s footprint as an employer, its role in responding to the pandemic, and the many ways our graduates will help the economy recover make our role more vital than ever.”
Trustees discussed the UO’s return to campus plans, including how they might affect university research and what continued remote and online instruction opportunities the UO might embrace in the long term.
Schill said that he was “under no illusions” that COVID-19 “is going away” by the fall. But with access to vaccinations, continued declines in local cases and K-12 public school re-openings, the UO is “well-positioned” for such a return, he said.
“We’ve learned so much over the last year and we are prepared to react to the changing landscape that is COVID-19,” Schill added.
Following a public comment opportunity, the board also approved, on a 13-1 vote, Schill’s recommendations on student tuition and fees for the upcoming academic year.
Tuition rates for next year’s incoming cohort of undergraduate students will be set at a level that is higher than this year’s first-year students by 4.5 percent for Oregon resident students and 3 percent for nonresident students. Those rates will be locked for those students for five years.
The recommended rates only apply to the incoming class of first-year and transfer undergraduate students this fall, because under the UO’s new guaranteed tuition program tuition rates and mandatory fees for all returning undergraduate students are already set. The board also approved graduate tuition rates that vary from no increase to a 5 percent increase, depending on the program.
The recommendations were largely developed by the Tuition and Fee Advisory Board — made up of students, staff and faculty members — over the course of its 10 public meetings over fall and winter terms.
Trustee Ginevra Ralph applauded the advisory board for conducting an inclusive and transparent tuition-setting process that was far less contentious than in years’ past.
“For this process to have played out in this way is a credit” to the advisory board, Ralph said.
Like Schill, the trustees decided against a new mandatory athletics ticket fee for incoming students, which had been proposed by the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics to replace funding for student tickets that the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, the UO’s student government organization, voted to reallocate to other student programs this year.
Instead of the new fee, Schill is adopting a program starting this fall that will allow students the opportunity to purchase deeply discounted season tickets to football and most men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as maintain free access to other home sporting events.
The university will provide $1.2 million in university licensing revenue — generated by selling UO-branded merchandise and separate from any tuition-supported funds or other education and general fund moneys — to athletics to subsidize the sale of at least 5,000 student annual passes for $100 each. Athletics will also continue to sell single tickets to students, subject to availability
Trustee Marcia Aaron expressed concern that, even with the discounted rates, the new system requiring student to purchase sports passes will limit opportunities for low-income students to attend marquee UO athletic events.
“That is troubling to me as someone who was a Pell grant student,” Aaron said. “I understand why we have to do it, but at the same time, I’m not particularly comfortable with it.”
Student trustee Katherine Wishnia noted that the UO’s student government is using the reallocated student ticket funds for other worthwhile causes, including basic student needs like initiatives around food and housing security, reproductive health, and textbook affordability.
“While student tickets are valuable and the discussion there still needs to be present, I also think it’s important to keep in mind what ASUO is funding” with the reallocated dollars, Wishnia said.
Trustee Andrew Colas said he sees the value for students in both athletic tickets and the new initiatives. The lack of funding for both highlights the inadequate state support for universities, he said.
“I hope we do get an opportunity to look back at this in a couple of years to make sure we aren’t taking something away from all our students,” Colas said.
In other business, the board of trustees approved without dissent an $8.5 million project to purchase and install a new thermal tank to support the UO’s chilled water system. The storage tank will add to the UO’s chilled water capacity for cooling building on campus during the hot summer months, said Mike Harwood, associate vice president for campus planning and facilities management, and it will help reduce the UO’s peak electrical usage during the day.
The trustees received briefings on COVID-19 impacts, planning and operations from Andre Le Duc, UO associate vice president and chief resilience officer, and on university finance and treasury reports from Jamie Moffitt, vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer.
Provost Patrick Phillips provided an update to the board on the UO’s academic initiatives. Key areas of focus include data science; the environment; entrepreneurship and economic transformation; the Center for Racial Disparities and Resilience; and sports and wellness.
The initiatives, which are all initially being supported entirely through philanthropy, cut across different academic disciplines, are rooted in solving complex, real-world challenges, and focus on emphasizing the UO’s role as a pathway to economic and social empowerment, Phillips said.
“Over the last 20 years, we haven’t done as good of a job as we should have to look across the entire academic portfolio of the university and see where we could draw things together,” Phillips said.
On March 9, the board received a report on student success, focused on transfer and nontraditional students, presented by Kimberly Johnson, interim vice provost for undergraduate education and student success; Maria Kalnbach, coordinator of nontraditional and veteran student engagement and success; and Jim Brooks, associate vice president and director of student financial aid and scholarships.
The report focused in particular on recent challenges in transfer student enrollment and support at the UO, largely linked to the decline in community college enrollment across Oregon. Both metrics are down around 40 percent since 2012.
The UO is exploring new potential scholarship opportunities for transfer students as well as revisiting and revamping agreements that provide easy pathways for students from community colleges to the UO.
“We’re working on all these things to try and build a better transition platform for transfer students to help them be successful at the University of Oregon,” Brooks said.
The trustees also received an update on textbook affordability and open educational resources from Nick Keough, ASUO senator; Mike Price, senior instructor of mathematics; and Rayne Vieger, e-learning and open educational resource librarian.
Keough stressed the scope of the problem, reporting that many surveyed UO students said they’d spent hundreds of dollars a term on textbooks. Vieger said that the university’s textbook affordability taskforce is identifying opportunities to tackle the issue, while protecting the university faculty’s academic freedom to teach the materials they choose.
Part of that work, Vieger said, involves heightening awareness among both students and faculty of existing open education and Creative Commons resources available through UO Libraries, as well as book sharing and lending options through the Duck Store.
—By Saul Hubbard, University Communications